Members of a state Senate panel got a stark picture Monday of the impact of the Louisiana House’s budget tinkering.
From slashes in Medicaid provider rates to accreditation woes for health care training programs, state officials told the Senate Finance Committee that the results would be devastating if the changes remain in place.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief budget aide, said he would have no choice but to cut health care, higher education, prisons and other critical state expenses despite the House’s contention that the reductions could be managed by trimming travel, supplies and other costs.
“There’s not a lot of fluff in the budget,” he said.
The start of another week of committee meetings at the State Capitol gave Rainwater an opportunity to comment publicly on the House’s reworking of the $25 billion state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. It also allowed him to start making a pitch for the Senate to unravel the House’s changes.
With three weeks left in the legislative session, the Senate Finance Committee is tackling House Bill 1, the main budget legislation. The budget funds hospitals, colleges and other state services.
The House, at the lead of Republican legislators, last week directed Rainwater to make $268 million in cuts to remove one-time money from the spending plan.
One-time money is funding that likely only will materialize once such as proceeds from the sale of a building.
The House suggested that the Jindal administration could cut travel expenses, reduce funding for vacant positions or send state workers home without pay for two days. However, the suggestions were just suggestions. The Jindal administration would decide how to make reductions.
HB1’s sponsor, state Rep. Jim Fannin, told the Senate Finance Committee Monday that the changes were unconstitutional because legislators shirked their responsibility to balance the budget.
Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said there still is time to make changes.
“We’re only at halftime, and we’ve got time to work,” he said.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, said the session is winding to a close.
“We’re a little past halftime,” he said.
Committee members pressed Rainwater for details on how the slate of suggestions by the House would be levied.
Rainwater said cutting supplies could mean canceling the purchases of blankets and pillows for prisoners, light bulbs for 24-hour health care facilities and fuel for State Police vehicles.
The Jindal administration is grappling not just with the House’s changes but also with a shortfall in next year’s budget because of downturns in revenue projections.
Because reductions could only be made to discretionary spending, cuts would fall on agencies whose budgets are more at the will of legislators than other agencies’ budgets, Rainwater said. For agencies that leverage their state dollars to attract federal dollars, the impact would be magnified, he said.
Rainwater said to expect more than $200 million in cuts to higher education and more than $500 million in cuts to health care services.
State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said a central Louisiana mental hospital would close, school-based health clinics would be eliminated and Medicaid provider rates would drop by nearly 10 percent.
He predicted doctors and others who care for the poor through the Medicaid program would stop providing those services or go out of business.
“I’m calling my drug store and getting Prozac for all of us,” joked state Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-St. Martinville and a pharmacist.
LSU System Vice President Fred Cerise told the committee that additional cuts to the state’s public hospitals would result in reductions to the programs that train doctors and other health care professionals.
He said an emergency room training program already is facing possible accreditation problems.
“We’re going to get back a list of things that’s going to be quite dramatic,” Cerise said.